Streetwise: How To Keep Your Employees Engaged

October 10, 2020

From our friends at Eure Consulting:

The only real difference between any company and its competitors is its people. And how to keep those great people happy and engaged at work is a constant worry for most business owners and CEOs. Many companies employ the strategy of paying their employees more than their competitors. While this may be an effective way to get great employees in the door, salary alone won’t keep them engaged forever. They need to love what they do, where do they it, and how they do it. These are all things within your control.

I heard an NPR story once on the topic of allowance. A parent promises to give their child a certain amount of money every month, usually asking for something in return, such as completing chores, doing their homework, practicing an instrument, etc. This sounds a lot like a salary, doesn’t it? A company promises to pay an employee a certain amount of money every month while asking for, in return, their time and effort.

This NPR story goes on to talk about why tying an allowance directly to certain “performance objectives” doesn’t always work. Not every child feels that they need, or even want, that money. And, if they don’t care about receiving the reward, then there’s no need to do the work. Dishes are left un-washed, beds go unmade, tubas and flutes sit idle in the corner.

This same phenomenon occurs every day in companies throughout the world. Though not focused on whether employees’ beds are made or not, managers do care if employees stop reaching their business objectives.

If every child is not motivated solely by money, why would every adult be?

If you want to truly ensure that all of your employees stay engaged and excited about their work, you’re going to have to look at a lot more than just their salaries. You’ll have to create an entire environment that works to keep them engaged.

At Eure Consulting, we follow Daniel Pink’s AMP framework for employee engagement. Mr. Pink, the author of several provocative, bestselling books about business, work, and behavior, has written a very interesting book on this topic: Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us in which he discusses three areas of engagement:

Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives.

Mastery – the urge to get better and better at something that matters.

Purpose – the yearning to work in the service of something larger than ourselves.

We agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Pink’s observations and like to use his three categories as a guideline for the employee engagement practices we teach. Each of these three categories is necessary for employees to fully engage, be productive, and feel good about their job. These three combined give employees a feeling of control and fulfillment that serves to get and keep them engaged with their work.

Let’s look a little deeper at each of the three.

Autonomy

For an employee to have true Autonomy, both the organization and employee must first have a complete understanding of and total agreement about the employee’s role. Specifically, what are the expected outcomes? When and how do the outcomes need to be accomplished? To whom does the employee report?  What behaviors, values, knowledge, experience, skills, education and intelligence does the employee need to succeed? All of these details should be laid out in an explicitly clear job description. The more detail the better.

Many CEOs and entrepreneurs think an overly detailed job description is too controlling because they don’t like to be told what to do and when. But it’s just the opposite for employees. When you take the time to clearly lay out what is expected of them and by when they no longer have to guess and wonder if they’re spending their time on the right tasks or projects. They know with crystal clarity what good performance looks like and what they need to do. They don’t feel they have to ask. This is Autonomy and it frees your employees to perform.

Clearly defined roles are the first step to Autonomy.

It gives your employee a defined sandbox within which to play and you can let them play freely within that box. The next step is to match employees to roles that they are naturally suited to. We use Behavioral Assessments to accomplish this, ensuring that each employee has the right behaviors and values for their position.

The third step to empowering your employees and instilling Autonomy is to ensure that your onboarding and training processes are effective. An employee may understand their role with crystal clarity, but will still not be able to execute if they don’t know where to find a certain resource or how to fill out a certain report. You have to make sure that you are providing all the tools and basic training needed for someone to fulfill their job duties.

Autonomy comes to employees who understand what is expected of them, are well-matched to their roles, and have the tools and training to deliver the expected outcomes.

Mastery

Over and above normal, baseline training is the need for continued professional development, or Mastery, in someone’s role.

Everyone wants to know they’re doing a good job and, if they’re not yet doing it as close to perfection as humanly possible, that their performance is improving. But as business leaders, we often do an awful job of giving our teammates the straightforward feedback they need to improve. We fail to coach, advise, train, and direct as we should. Feedback promotes growth and a feeling of accomplishment. And that leads to better performance.

Not providing the feedback that employees need in order to improve starts them down the path of disengagement.

This feedback needs to be provided on a much more frequent basis than you probably are providing it right now. In our ideal world, you and your managers would be meeting with your direct reports every week to check in on progress, provide feedback, and help troubleshoot. However, we realize that you have limited time on your hands so we recommend meeting no less than monthly for these feedback discussions. This gives you the opportunity to address issues promptly as well as to continue to follow up on progress.

Aside from providing the feedback your employees need to keep improving, you also need to offer the training and/or resources for employees to effectively respond to your feedback.

Consider the following oft-quoted story:

At a C-suite team meeting to discuss a new employee development program, the CFO turns to the CEO and asks: “What happens if we invest in developing our people, spend all this money, and then they leave us?” To which the CEO quickly replies: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?” This CEO gets it.

If you ever have any hesitation about spending time and/or money on an employee training program, ask yourself what will happen if you don’t train your employees. The effects are two-fold: First, the employees who are interested in professional development, a.k.a. the ones who are invested in their work and actually want to get better, leave. They’ll find a job at a different company, where there is more opportunity for growth. Second, the employees who stay become disengaged and consistently underperform. They don’t have the skills, nor the drive, necessary to be a top performer and so will be just fine with being just fine. Your company will consist of low performing employees who are only interested in skating by.

If, as a company, you’re not investing your time and energy into helping your people reach their full potential, why would they invest their time and energy in helping your company reach its full potential?

How can you expect your employees to get better at their jobs if you’re not helping them learn and grow?

Professional development and continuous learning should be a company standard. Make sure everyone knows it is a priority, for every role. Employees should be offered opportunities to hone and improve their skills on a regular basis.

A great way to help your employees understand where they would like to improve and gain Mastery is to create personal and professional goals with them. With the feedback you provide, you can help them determine what areas they would like to grow in. The skills most important to the employee’s role should be developed first and foremost, but, if the employee so chooses, they should also be able to develop skills outside of what their role requires.

By offering these training programs, you demonstrate your willingness to invest in your employees on a personal level. Employees will feel empowered to improve themselves and their careers. And they will be more engaged, productive, and loyal because of it.

Purpose

The last of Mr. Pink’s three engagement areas is Purpose. Purpose is about helping your employee connect to the bigger picture. How are they contributing to something larger than themselves? How do they fit into the puzzle that is your organization?

The first step to providing this Purpose is to clearly define your company’s vision and mission.

Your employees will never have a clear understanding of how they are making an impact on the world if you haven’t taken the time to clearly lay it out.  Whether your main objective is to save the rainforest or to make the best refrigerators on the market, you need to provide that vision and clarity for your employees.

Your people want to know that they are part of a team that is working towards an audacious goal. Something that none of you could accomplish on your own. That starts with your vision. What is it that you as a company are setting out to do? Once you’ve clearly defined that larger organizational goal, you can help each of your employees see how they directly tie into that goal. Show them how what they do on a daily basis helps to move the needle.

The second step to providing Purpose for your employees is to clearly define your core values.

What do you as a company stand for? And how do you operate? Clearly defining the company’s values gives your employees a code to live by. It helps to bring everyone together as they can trust that everyone else believes in those values as well, again, tying them to the bigger picture of the company as a whole.

Understanding the impact that they have in their individual role and how that then has an impact on the overall company will help keep your employees engaged and excited to come to work.

Those are the three areas of engagement that Pink talks about in his book, but we believe there is one area he is leaving out. An area that is inherent in all three of these other areas, but one that should be named and claimed individually: Relationships.

It is impossible to create success in any of Mr. Pink’s three areas of engagement without first building strong Relationships with your employees.

Not only does this help them to trust you and your company, but it also helps them become better employees. If your employees understand that you care about them as people, they will feel more secure in their roles, more comfortable with taking risks for the company, and are more likely to be engaged and productive at work.

By taking the time to connect with each employee on an individual level, you will slowly start to build a relationship in which they know that you have their best interest at heart. This is what we call a Personal Business Relationship, or PBR. Employees with whom you have established a PBR will take feedback more openly, believing that it is truly helpful to them, not just what you want. They will be more committed to the company. And, most importantly, they will be highly engaged in what they’re doing.

It should be noted that these strategies work just as well remotely as they do in an office. If you are remote, you may need to spend more effort intentionally developing the Relationships upfront given there is less ability to just drop by someone’s desk to chat. But as long as you are putting in the time to show employees that you care about them as individuals and want what’s best for them and the company, you’ll have no problem getting RAMP – Relationships, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose – to stick.